November 2012
AHF & LAHS Launch "Voices of the Manhattan Project"
Excerpts from "Voices of the Manhattan Project"
Take our Survey
"Voices of the Manhattan Project" in the News
Manhattan Project Park Update
A Great Work of Human Collaboration
Quick Links


November was an exciting month as the Atomic Heritage Foundation, with the Los Alamos Historical Society, launched a new website: Voices of the Manhattan Project. With an initial sampling of 26 oral histories, the site has generated nationwide interest and press coverage. Over the next year, we hope to add hundreds of oral histories from many sources. Enjoy!

Manhattan Project veteran William Spindel

AHF & LAHS Launch "Voices of the Manhattan Project"


On November 19, 2012, the Atomic Heritage Foundation and the Los Alamos Historical Society proudly announced the launch of Voices of the Manhattan Project, featuring our oral history collections.



November 19 marked the seventieth anniversary of General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer's search for a site for a research laboratory. Stirling Colgate was a senior at the Los Alamos Boys Ranch School when Oppenheimer visited there.  According to his oral history, Colgate recognized the man in the porkpie hat right away and suspected what might be in store for the isolated mesa. Colgate thought Los Alamos was "a crazy place to do any war thing." The rest is history.


The collection of 26 oral histories is just the beginning. AHF and LAHS hope to add some two hundred from our collections and perhaps many more from organizations at the other Manhattan Project sites and elsewhere. Eventually, the site should provide a rich tapestry of people and perspectives on one of the most significant developments in modern history. 


The Manhattan Project was a great human collaboration. Participants included recent immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Europe, young men and women straight from high school or college, and numerous Hispanics, Native Americans, and African-Americans. Some 125,000 people worked in secret locations in communities developed by the government for the sole purpose of the project. Most surprisingly, very few knew that they were working on an atomic bomb.


"Voices of the Manhattan Project" highlight some of the challenges that Manhattan Project participants faced, from living in isolated secret cities to solving complex problems with slide rules, the "high-speed computers" of the day. The website also features information about Manhattan Project sites, with a map showing all the sites. We expect the website will become a great resource for scholars, students, and the general public interested in the history and legacy of the Manhattan Project.


This project was made possible by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kerr Foundation, and the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. 






Excerpts from "Voices of the Manhattan Project"


Lawrence Denton (Hanford): "They built a big theater and big rec hall for our entertainment. We had outdoor theaters, too, but they weren't too good in wind storms. You had to sit there with goggles on to watch a movie! But it was something to do. Then we would walk up to White Bluffs and get an ice cream cone. Why, it was only two miles. It was an amazing experience for a man from northern Idaho to come into a camp of 50,000 people going day and night."



Colleen Black (Oak Ridge): "And we couldn't wear nylon hose; the nylons were going to make parachutes. Our lipsticks came in little cardboard containers because the lipstick factories were making bullets. So it was very difficult to be glamorous. We tried. We had leg makeup and would paint our legs to look like we had on hose. We'd take our eyebrow pencils and draw the seam up the side because that was the fashion then. But if it rained, look out!"



George Cowan (Met Lab, Columbia, Los Alamos): "I should mention maybe that one of the great things in the postwar era was the Theoretical Division poker club. I was not a member of Theoretical Division, but I was a member of the weekly poker group. And it had traveling guests: Edward Teller played, Johnny von Neumann played, just about everybody that came by that was willing to play poker would be invited to play in that poker game."


Veronica Taylor (Hanford): "Well, the Columbia River has played a very important part of our life. I remember the very first time that I saw it, I was just floored by the size of the Columbia River when we used to come down here and camp. I was just a very small young girl, and we used to camp along the riverside. And there were farmers in the area that had orchards and grew fruit and vegetables. And Indian people, in the early years, used to come down here and camp quite a bit and they used to fish and gather the roots and the berries, for medicine and for trading purposes, that they conducted along the river areas." 



Joseph Dykstra (Oak Ridge): "And we had bicycles [in the K-25 plant] so that people could get around. In fact, I requisitioned a battery-operated golf cart, Cushman golf cart...because this poor foreman had to go back and forth over a whole mile all day. The operators had bicycles just to go within their own building, but that guy would wear himself out because going several miles during the eight hours. But they rejected the requisition with a note that "We don't spend federal money for golf carts." So we rewrote the requisition for a battery-powered mobile unit and we got it."



Jack Aeby (Los Alamos): "There's one interesting point in our camping trips. We took a four-day pack trip just after the Trinity event. I returned to Los Alamos and was able to resume my Boy Scout work. We organized a four-day pack trip with Bences [Gonzales], camp cook. All the boys had pack animals...When we came back over the mountains and into the general area of the S-site, lo and behold the end of the war occurred. Just as we topped that hill and came down through the woods, [George] Kistiakowsky decided to celebrate by setting off all the scrap TNT he had out there at the S-site: 'KABOOM, KABOOM, KABOOM!'"


Take our Survey

After you've visited "Voices of the Manhattan Project," please help us improve the website by taking a a brief ten-question survey. We will be adding many oral histories from our collections over the next several months and hope to make the site as robust and user friendly as possible.


"Voices of the Manhattan Project" in the News


Jack Aeby's famous photo of the Trinity test

On November 28, the Department of Energy released a news flash--Atomic Bombs, Winning the War and Women in Pants. This title captures the potpourri of recollections from Manhattan Project veterans whose oral histories were included in the initial launch of "Voices of the Manhattan Project."


Media outlets around the country have promoted the site to their readers and listeners. On November 27, the Tri-City Herald summarized several of the Hanford interviews, including veterans Lawrence Denton and Paul Vinther who describe working on B Reactor.  Also featured were Rex Buck, Jr. of the Wanapum and Veronica Taylor of the Nez Perce, who talk about how their ways of life were disrupted by Hanford.


Manhattan Project veteran Ralph Lapp

The website The Sociable published a long article, What Was It Like to Work for the Manhattan Project? Frank Munger, blogger of Atomic City Underground for the Knoxville News Sentinel, highlighted the Oak Ridgers interviewed, including Joseph Dykstra and Donald Trauger. Oak Ridge Today explained, "Oak Ridge played a key role in the Manhattan Project..The website includes interviews with several people who worked in Oak Ridge during the war." The Santa Fe radio station KSFR did a story on "Voices of the Manhattan Project" and used excerpts from the interview with Jack Aeby, who took the only color photograph of the Trinity test.


While we have lost most of the physical properties of the Manhattan Project, we can still preserve the spirit of the Manhattan Project through these accounts. 


Manhattan Project Park Update 


With Congress convened in a lame duck session, we are guardedly optimistic that the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act may be enacted. AHF is working closely with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and others to urge action on the legislation before the end of the session. 


Be sure to read the New York Times for a possible story next week and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates on the status of the legislation.

The B Reactor at Hanford, one of the facilities that would be included in a Manhattan Project National Historical Park

A Great Work of Human Collaboration


AHF staff in front of the Capitol after the House committee hearing on the Manhattan Project Park in June

As Richard Rhodes wrote in his introduction to our anthology, the Manhattan Project was a great work of human collaboration. Epic in scope, it transformed science, history and society. 


For more than ten years, the Atomic Heritage Foundation has been working to preserve and interpret this history. From working to preserve the V-Site at Los Alamos, to publishing several books including The Manhattan Project, to producing interpretive exhibits, symposia and documentary films, AHF has accomplished a great deal over the past decade.


As a tax-exempt nonprofit, our budget depends in large measure on donations from individuals. Contributions enable us to promote saving important properties and record oral histories. Over the next year, we plan to expand our new website, Voices of the Manhattan Project, so that it can become a central repository. In addition, we are working with colleagues at Los Alamos, NM, Hanford, WA, and Oak Ridge, TN on many other initiatives.


To contribute, please donate through our online store or send a check made out to the Atomic Heritage Foundation at 910 17th Street, NW, Suite 408, Washington, DC 20006. Donations are fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Each donation of $100 will receive a "thank you" guidebook of your choice, and donations of $250 and more will receive a full set of the four guidebooks pictured here. 


If you're looking for stocking stuffers for the holidays, our books and films on Manhattan Project history make excellent gifts!


Preserving this history will take a great work of human collaboration. Thanks very much and warmest wishes for the holidays!


If Congress passes the legislation to create a park, it will be a major milestone. With Senator Jeff Bingaman, Representative Doc Hastings and other members of the Manhattan Project delegation in Congress giving it their all, we are guardedly optimistic. Stay tuned!



Atomic Heritage Foundation